There is a particularly poignant scene in Sir Richard Attenborough’s iconic 1984 film ‘Gandhi’ where a crowd of rustic looking men marches ahead with quiet determination, two at a time, to be baton-charged by policemen. A group of women in white sarees tow the men away as they collapse to the ground under the impact of several lathis coming down on their bodies simultaneously and administer them first aid. No one shrieks. No one wails. The women go about their business of nursing the injured in all silence. There is not a trace of fear in the eyes of the men waiting for their turn to get beaten up by the cops. After one pair sinks to the ground, the next moves ahead for the cops to pounce on them like a pack of wolves.
Every time I have watched the movie in the last 34 years (I must have seen it a dozen times) I have always wondered how ordinary men – and women – could display such extraordinary courage, knowing very well what lies at the next step. Had they wanted, they could have overwhelmed the cops in a matter of minutes because they outnumbered the men in khaki in a ratio of 20:1. And all that their tormentors wielded were mere lathis. Instead, they chose to get thrashed by the cops, two at a time, and sustained serious injuries in the process. As they waited for their turn, their eyes reflected not anger, but a quiet determination that is easier felt than described. Where did these people derive their courage, strength and determination from? How come the dreaded ‘danda’ of the British police failed to evoke any fear in these people staring wide-eyed at the danger ahead? What made them resist the all-so-natural instinct to hit back?
The answer to all these questions is ‘Gandhiji’.
The Mahatma was not physically present when these men and women bore the brunt of the brutal assault by the cops. Nor was any other leader there to exhort them with fiery speeches to do what they did. But the men and women knew Gandhi was right there among them, watching out hawk-eyed for the slightest hint of fear or anger in their eyes. They heard Gandhiji’s exhortations to stay calm, unruffled and brave in the face of the impending danger. And they were determined not to fail the Mahatma.
There is an equally poignant scene towards the end of the film. The location is Calcutta, which is in the grip of the bloodiest riot seen in the city. Gandhiji is on a fast unto death in an effort to put an end to the mayhem all around. In walks an agitated man (played by the inimitable Om Puri in an intense, power-packed 90-second performance that remains etched in memory for a lifetime) with an axe in hand who narrates the harrowing experience of how his children were butchered by Muslims and how he, in turn, butchered a Muslim couple, rendering their son an orphan. Gandhiji - his body emaciated, his eyes betraying no emotions, his lips parched – listens patiently as Puri (I can’t recollect the name of the character) pours out his anger and anguish and then tells him in a voice that is barely audible, “Take care of the son of the couple you killed, just like you would have taken care of your own son.” As Puri breaks down, the Mahatma adds; “And remember, you must bring him up as per Muslim customs.” Puri throws away his dagger and goes back sobbing.
Imagine something like this happening today. Just think of a person in present day India, who would offer the kind of advice that Gandhiji did to a man who has just confessed to wiping out a whole family. Look around the country and try to find a person who could restore normalcy in a big, bustling city burning in the frenzy of communal killings with a mere fast. Do all this and you would realize how rapidly and irretrievably the nation’s moral fibre has decayed in the years since the Mahatma fell to the assassin’s bullet on a cold January evening in 1948.
Since this piece started with a scene from a film, it is only appropriate that it ends with another. At one point in Raju Hirani’s “Lage Raho Munnabhai”, Prof Murli Prasad Sharma alias Munnabhai (Sanjay Dutt) says; “Deewar pe mere jitney bhi photo hain, sab utaar do. Chaurahe par meri jitni bhi murtiyaan hain, sab tod daalo.” As the group of old men looks on perplexed comes the punch line from the lovable Munnabhai; “Agar Rakhna Hai to Mujhe apne dil mein rakho.”
On this Gandhi Jayanti, that is what all of us should do: stop false-worshipping him and start internalising him instead!
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)